Passage dream comes true

Ballygunner 3-13 Passage 3-16
Sensation yesterday in Walsh Park as Passage grabbed a first Waterford SHC title with an unforgettable finish, hammering 2-4 in the last five minutes to snatch victory from Ballygunner.

The Gunners were seven points up with seven minutes left, but were reeled in by four late points which seemed likely to add respectability to the scoreline, and little more, and by two cracking goals: Passage were three points behind on 59 minutes when teenage sub Sean Hogan smashed home a superb equalising goal from an acute angle.

Almost on the resumption, the men in red and white stormed forward again, and Hogan touched the ball to joint-captain Conor Carey, who blasted home the winner sparking jubilation among a crowd of around 5,000.

A scrappy, low-scoring opening saw both sides swap points, but on five minutes two of the Passage full-forward line were on the ground off the ball, with ‘Gunner corner-back Paul Coughlin picking up a yellow card.

Passage nudged ahead with an Owen Connors free on nine minutes, but they struggled in the early stages to find their key forward, former Waterford star Eoin Kelly.

Ballygunner were better around the middle of the field, with Shane O’Sullivan showing his experience to win possession and spray the ball to his inside line.

A Pauric Mahony 65 tied the game on 15 minutes to end a bloodless quarter, but then Ballygunner struck: Stephen Power collected the ball near the Passage goal and was crowded towards the wing, but he somehow got his shot in and it trickled over the line with his teammate David O’Sullivan in close attendance.

Passage responded through Killian Fitzgerald and an Eoin Kelly free, and then had a goal of their own. Conor Carey fielded a puck-out, fed Owen Connors, and the wing-forward soloed through before finding the net.

With 22 minutes gone, then, Passage were 1-4 to 1-2 ahead, but Ballygunner weren’t long levelling, through yet another Mahony free and a good Harley Barnes effort from play. Mahony hit another long-range free to give Ballygunner the lead, but Owen Connors equalised with a free from similar range.

With the half winding down Pauric Mahony hit his first from play, a terrific effort from long distance, and in injury time Rory Walsh won a free for Passage just over 21 metres out. Kelly went for goal but his shot flew over the bar: 1-6 each at the break.

A clever delivery from keeper Stephen O’Keeffe found David O’Sullivan for the opening point of the second half, but Kelly responded with a free to level. Stephen Power’s fine point nudged Ballygunner ahead, and the game was suddenly livelier.

On 35 minutes Brian O’Sullivan found Pauric Mahony, who goaled with a venomous shot. When Mahony knocked over another free a minute later, there was daylight between them, 2-9 to 1-7.

An Owen Connors free reduced the deficit but then Ballygunner struck again for goal: Power again won the ball, soloed through the middle and parted to JJ Hutchinson, who goaled calmly from close range. When Owen Connors — again — responded with a free, the gap was two clear goals, 3-9 to 1-9, with a quarter of the game left.

With Wayne Hutchinson dominating at half-back and Shane O’Sullivan on top in midfield, Ballygunner had the perfect platform, and Passage were struggling to make the ball stick up front. When they did make inroads, on 49 minutes John Whitty had a clear sight of goal and let fly, but Stephen O’Keeffe dived full-length to turn the ball around the post: Owen Connors pointed the 65, but Passage needed that goal badly.

In the closing stages Passage managed points from frees by Kelly and Connors, but Ballygunner responded through Brian O’Sullivan and Power, keeping their two-goal lead intact, 3-13 to 1-13, with five minutes left.

Killian Fitzgerald and Owen Connors (two frees) cut the deficit to a goal, however, on 59 minutes, and then we had that end-game, never to be forgotten in the picturesque village on the shores of the estuary.

Scorers for Ballygunner: P. Mahony 1-7 (0-5 fs, 0-1 65); S. Power 1-2; JJ Hutchinson 1-0; H. Barnes 0-2; D. O’Sullivan, Brian O’Sullivan 0-1 each.

Scorers for Passage: O. Connors 1-7 (0-6 fs, 0-1 65); E. Kelly 0-5 (0-4 fs); C. Carey, S. Hogan 1-0 each; K. Fitzgerald 0-2; J. Whitty and J. Roche 0-1 each.

BALLYGUNNER: Stephen O’Keeffe, Stephen O’Keeffe, B. Coughlin, P. Coughlin, S. Walsh, W. Hutchinson, A. Kirwan, Philip Mahony, H. Barnes, S. O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony (c), D. O’Sullivan, Brian O’Sullivan, S. Power, JJ Hutchinson.

Sub: Barry O’Sullivan for JJ Hutchinson, 53.

PASSAGE: E. Lynch, J. Roche, M. Wyse, J. Upton, S. Mason, N. Connors, P. Walsh, K. Fitzgerald, J. Whitty, O. Connors, C. Carey (joint captain), T. Connors, R. Walsh, E. Kelly (joint captain), L. Flynn.

Subs: J. Flood for Upton, 17; S. Hogan for L. Flynn HT; J. McClean for R. Walsh, 49.

Referee: T. O’Sullivan (Cappoquin).